RAPISTS and sexual attackers in the Scarborough area could be walking free because of the lack of a specialist facility for victims, it has been claimed.
There is currently no Sexual Assault Referral Centre in all of North Yorkshire, despite the fact that the Government has said each police force area should have one in place.
The centres act as 24-hour, one-stop centres for victims of sexual assaults, providing medical and forensic services, counselling and sexual health services under one roof.
The nearest centres to Scarborough, which are run by agencies including the police, the NHS and voluntary organisations, are based in Durham or Hull.
Pauline Carruthers, founder and chief executive officer of the Scarborough-based HOPE charity for victims of rape and sexual assault, said that potential woman victims in the region need a centre “desperately”.
“In areas where they have a Sexual Assault Referral Centre there has been increased reporting of sexual assaults,” she added. “I am not saying a centre would be a deterrent to offenders, but one would help to catch the perpetrators of these crimes and bring more of them to justice.”
In a report of the North Yorkshire Police Authority on the progress towards a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, it is stated:
l Two of the three sexual examination suites in North Yorkshire, including a facility at West Ayton, are not forensically approved or certified and do not meet expectations of victims
l Victims of rape and sexual assault are not routinely offered a choice of gender of the physician who carries out the intimate forensic examinations on them
l There is no automatic screening for sexually transmitted diseases for victims and no provision for trained crisis workers to provide immediate support to any victims
l Victims are only able to report rapes or sexual assaults formally to the police, weakening the useful flow of information on sexual offences and offenders
North Yorkshire Police have recently spent £75,000 upgrading a facility in Bishopthorpe in York, but it still does not offer many services which would be offered by a Sexual Assault Referral Centre.
A spokesperson for the force said that if victims request a male or female physician, they got one in the “vast majority” of cases, although it was not guaranteed.
MP Anne McIntosh, who represents Thirsk and Malton, has described the region’s lack of a centre as “unacceptable”.
Scarborough MP Robert Goodwill said yesterday: “We need to make sure we do whatever we can to increase the levels of reporting and make sure the conviction rate for rapes increases from the ridiculously low level of six per cent we have at the moment.”
Detective Superintendent Lewis Raw, head of major and specialist crime, said That North Yorkshire Police was committed to improving services for victims of sexual assaults, and that significant progress towards a Sexual Assault Referral Centre had been made in the last year.
He added: “The force has developed a pool of specially trained officers who will work with victims from the very start of an investigation, through to the verdict of subsequent court cases. These officers provide consistency and a single point of contact for victims.
“North Yorkshire Police will continue to work towards the development of Sexual Assault Referral Centre services and to improve the quality of care which is available to victims of sexual assault.”
Sue Metcalfe, Deputy Chief Executive of NHS North Yorkshire and York, said that recommendations from the National Support Team for Response to Sexual Violence were being taken seriously, following a recent visit.
She added: “In February this year we updated partner organisations that hold a joint responsibility for this service on our progress. We confirmed that we are moving forward with a project to review the service offering across our area and the capabilities within the current service provision.
“We are currently recruiting a professional to lead the development of care pathways for victims of rape and serious sexual assault across North Yorkshire and York.”